The IAB’s ad block primer for publishers

The IAB Tech Lab Ad Blocking Group has compiled guidance to help publishers manage ad blockers.

The IAB Tech Lab Ad Blocking Group has compiled guidance to help publishers manage ad blockers. The Publisher Ad Blocking Primer provides tactics for responding to ad blocking and comes as a result of the high adoption rate of ad blockers provided by companies such as AdBlock Plus and Ghostery. These are businesses too, making money by either whitelisting preferred ads (or ads that have been paid to be whitelisted), or collecting and selling data. So while publishers lose out these companies are thriving, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

In this post we’re going to break down the guidance so our publishers can understand how to best approach the problem of monetizing their video content whilst combating the quandary ad blockers present. The purpose of this post is not to criticize ad blocking but rather help publishers decide how to take ownership of their revenue and communicate better with their audience as to how they provide their content and what they reasonably expect in return.

There are specific tactics outlined in the IAB Primer, and each is based around a process they call DEAL. Each tactic should keep the premise of DEAL in mind:

D – Detect ad blocking in order to initiate the conversation

E – Explain the value exchange that advertising enables

A – Ask for changed behaviour in order to maintain an equitable exchange

L – Lift restrictions or L- Limit access in response to consumer choices

Shifting the focus of tackling of ad blocking from the ad blockers themselves, to the consumer, both by educating them about publisher business models and providing better user experiences is really important. The IAB’s Primer makes 7 tactical suggestions as listed below. We will cover those relevant to the audience only, but you can find a link to the official primer with more details including tactics specific to the ad blocker provider at the end.

  1. Notice
  2. Access Denial
  3. Tiered Experience
  4. Payments from Visitors
  5. Ad Reinsertion
  6. Payment to Ad Blocker Companies
  7. Payment to Visitors


Tactics publishers can adopt to ecouraging the disabling ad blockers

Notice – educate and signpost

When an ad blocker is detected you can present the user with a notice – a message that displays on the site in a variety of formats whether it be in the page header, within video content, on a landing page, or perhaps it’s something that’s triggered a little later once the user has been engaged in your content for a defined amount of time.

The notice can serve a variety of purposes including:

  • Educating the visitor about ad blockers and the threat they pose to content providers
  • Requesting the visitor to disable the ad blocker
  • Request the visitor for payment for access to content,
  • Informing of the consequences of them using ad blockers such as limited or completely restricted access to your content.

Educating your audience as to why advertising is essential is the first step in beginning a discussion that leads to asking them to do something such as either turn off their ad blocker, or pay for your content.

Whilst giving notice is a good way of educating your audience it also has the potential to draw attention to ad blockers, raising awareness of their widespread use and therefore, potentially give them more traction.  It’s also important to keep in mind that if you do enable notices, some ad blockers have the capabilities to block those too. It is recommended that if you decide to issue a notice, this should not be a standalone tactic but part of a wider strategy.

Access denial – risky business

This tactic seems pretty straight forward. If a visitor has ad blockers detected on their device, as a publisher, you simply disable their access to content. This is however quite a drastic measure and shouldn’t be implemented without an additional notice explaining why the content has been made unavailable and what the visitor can do to gain access.

Access denial invariably leads to a smaller audience and less sharing so it would only be appropriate for particular publishers who feel their audience loyalty is cemented and whose business model isn’t dependent on attracting new viewers.

Access denial can possibly lead to a reduced search rank because it can limit the ability for search bots to crawl the content, but if you’re relying on an audience that would come across your content without the use of search, that might not be a huge issue.

Tiered experience – limited access

This option grants restricted access to visitors with ad blockers, instead of blanket denying them content, it offers either a limited amount of time per session or articles per month for example. Many publishers use this approach for their subscription service but in this case we’re talking about its application to ad blocker users.

The risk of the tiered tactic is that some visitors may become accustomed to the limited experience and simply settle for that without taking any further action. It requires additional work for developers and may make measuring visitors difficult.

The positive of this approach is that it gives your audience more options, leverages the available inventory and is less likely to compromise search rankings.

Payments from visitors – subscription

This is essentially the subscription model. It’s a highly risky model for offering advertisement free content as a way to counter ad blockers because there is no obligation for audiences with ad blockers to pay for content. It’s their prerogative and you could run the risk of seriously reducing your audience if you create a black and white scenario. Payment for content can however be lightened by offering voluntary payment options, or tiered payment options.

Subscriptions can increase development and operational costs and the pricing of your content can become complicated. The desire to share socially is greatly reduced with paid for content, so losing audiences both direct and via social is a big risk.

Payment to visitors – the flip side

There have been various reward systems in place for visitors/players/viewers in digital publishing since well before ad blockers came about, but now they serve this additional purpose of enticing visitors to disable ad blockers. This can be done via a revenue share, rewards, or collaboration with other publishers to make ‘both financial and non-financial rewards more easily distributed’. (IAN Tech Lab).

Again this tactic requires some additional work on the development side but could be a viable solution especially within the gaming industry. Some publishers already have a system in place where users are rewarding for watching ads with vouchers, bonuses or points/hints for a level completion in a game. Ad blocking therefore serves a two problems for these publishers, often app owners because it disturbs the user experience and damages their model on more than one level. Another reason to educate your audience as early as possible.

Ad reinsertion – beating the blockers at their own game

The word reinsertion is a little misleading because whilst technology can place an ad where an ad blocker had previously removed it, it doesn’t mean the same ad will appear and doesn’t guarantee what the value of the new ad will be.

Additional tech is required meaning additional cost, and the more ad blocker – reinsertion – ad blocker processes going on in the background, the worse the user experience as latency and reduced ability to collect data compromise how the user experiences not just the ad unit but the content itself.

There are various methods that can be used to re-insert an ad or block the ad blocker. These include obfuscation, in browser modification and on server, which involves serving the ad from the same content side. Each of these requires additional work and monitoring but it does provide consistency for visitors and well as enabling the publishers to retain control of their revenue stream, as is their right.

Consider, communicate, collaborate – conquer

If you’re a publisher looking to implement one or more of the IABs recommended tactics, we would recommend you consider every option very carefully and how it applies to your specific business model, how it effects editorial and audience and weigh up the pros and cons, all of which can be found in the official primer document here.

The IAB should be commended for actively initiating the conversation around fighting back against ad blockers. Ad blockers may have won some judgments in the EU and managed to bypass some publisher revenue models, but ad blockers are not the future. Audiences need to understand the value exchange, publishers need to retain control of their own revenue, and users need better experiences. This all comes down to the advertisers and agencies providing more engaging and dynamic creative ad formats, and publishers ensuring the quality of that relationship by ensuring editorial teams are part of the decision making process.

Posted by simonholliday